Hard Times, Silver Linings and Farm and Fun Time

Only six months ago, on March 12, 2020, I thanked our sold-out crowd at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum for joining us for another live broadcast of Farm and Fun Time. Though the show went off without a hitch, the crowd was enthusiastic, and our team delivered another top-notch show, we knew things were about to change. That would be the last show with an audience I would be involved in for many months to come.

Earlier that evening when speaking with that night’s performers – Miss Tess and Jim Lauderdale – we knew it was time to get ready for some big changes as COVID-19 was quickly spreading all over the country. Fear of an imminent nationwide shut down seemed to be closing in. In between sound checking, rehearsing my lines, and setting up, I witnessed Tess’s upcoming album release tour (kicking off with Farm and Fun Time) fall apart. In rapid succession she was getting cancellations throughout the evening. As a fellow musician it really hit home, knowing the countless hours of work and sacrifice that go into not only setting up a successful tour but also recording and releasing a new project – the work and achievements of a professional artist are really remarkable. I also knew that her experience was about to be commonplace for those within our industry. By the following week, musicians all over the country no longer had proper means of making a living. Tours were cancelled, festivals were dropping out of the schedule left and right, and venues nationally were closing their doors, including Radio Bristol and the Birthplace of Country Music Museum.

Female guitar player singing at the mic. She has medium-length brown curly hair, glasses, and is wearing a sea green sleeveless top and a white costume jewelry necklace.

Miss Tess performing at the March 2020 Farm and Fun TIme, the last taping of the show with a live audience before industry shutdown. © Birthplace of Country Music, photographer: Billie Wheeler

As we all know, the past six months have seen a complete shut down of many industries, and one of the hardest hit has been the music industry. We have all felt the reverberations of this loss and have had realizations as to what live music brings to our lives: the thrill of being up close and personal with artists, the energy exchange between performers and audience, the necessity of shared experiences in a community setting. So many aspects of live performance feed us and connect us as human beings.

With so much loss and grief over the past six months it’s difficult to find the silver linings, but it’s also been necessary. I’ve been grateful to have time at home (my first summer home in eight years), to grow a garden, and to spend a lot of time hiking, camping, and getting into better shape. I’m even learning some new instruments (piano and banjo)! Through this time, I’ve also realized the fundamental role music and performance plays in our lives in keeping us balanced and energized. Performance is a cathartic exchange. Transitioning from performing usually around 100 shows a year to 10 shows (maybe) for 2020 has been quite an adjustment to say the least.

For us at Radio Bristol there have been some silver linings as well. After six years of hard work and dedication, the fruits of our labor have really been paying off. Over the past six months we’ve watched our flagship show Farm and Fun Time evolve from a local radio show to a regional PBS syndicated television show! Thanks to our partners at Blue Ridge PBS, our host providers of the program, we have seen the Farm and Fun Time audience grow to over 18 million homes. With the help of Blue Ridge PBS we have grown our footprint not just in Southwest Virginia, but also in East Tennessee on East Tennessee PBS and throughout North Carolina on UNC-TV. We’ve also begun shooting for Farm and Fun Time Season 2. Last week we kicked off Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion Virtual Festival with a great show featuring 49 Winchester, The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys, and Bill and the Belles!

Three musicians -- female fiddler, male guitarist, female banjo player -- playing and singing at a mic with the male bass player behind them. There is a man with a large video camera filming them in the foreground.

Bill and the Belles taping for Season 2 of Radio Bristol’s Farm and Fun Time airing on PBS. © Birthplace of Country Music, photographer: Billie Wheeler

We are excited to see more stations pick up the show, and we will have some more announcements about syndication soon. Until then you can visit our website to learn more about when and where to tune into Farm and Fun Time on PBS. And if Farm and Fun Time is NOT playing in your area, call your local provider and let them know what they are missing!

All of this being said, if you, like me, have felt the void that has been left with the loss of live music, please make sure to help support artists during this time by purchasing their music and merch, spreading the word about their work, and letting your representatives know the importance live music holds in our hearts and communities. We want to thank all of you for your overwhelming support through these difficult times and hope you are finding some silver linings in your own lives. Stay strong, stay safe, and thanks for being a part of our Radio Bristol community!

Top left: Brown-haired woman in a cream colored outfit playing the banjo in front of a mic.
Top right: African American woman wearing a black hat and a black floral shirt singing at a mic.
Bottom left: Female guitarist, male fiddler, and male banjo player arranged in front of a mic playing music.
Bottom right: Three male guitar playerson a stage facing out towards the audience, two are playing and one is singing.

Several local performers from 2019’s Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion, clockwise from top left: Martha Spencer, Amythyst Kiah, Folk Soul Revival, and Empty Bottle String Band. © Birthplace of Country Music

Producer at Radio Bristol

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